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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 225, Part I, 20 November 1998
________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 225, Part I, 20 November 1998 A daily report of developments in Eastern and Southeastern Europe, Russia, the Caucasus and Central Asia prepared by the staff of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. This is Part I, a compilation of news concerning Russia, Transcaucasia and Central Asia. Part II covers Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Europe and is distributed simultaneously as a second document. Back issues of RFE/RL NewsLine and the OMRI Daily Digest are online at RFE/RL's Web site: http://www.rferl.org/newsline xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Headlines, Part I * BLANK SCREEN REPLACES NEWS ON ORT * DEBT NEGOTIATORS ACHIEVE BREAKTHROUGH * NEW GEORGIAN FINANCE MINISTER NAMED End Note: SCHROEDER'S VISIT MARKS NEW ERA IN RUSSO-GERMAN RELATIONS xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIA BLANK SCREEN REPLACES NEWS ON ORT... Russian Public Television's (ORT) noon news program lasted only three minutes on 20 November because, according to the newscaster, essential equipment belonging to the television company has been confiscated owing to unpaid loans, ITAR-TASS reported. However, an official from the Moscow bailiff's office told the Russian agency that ORT executives are "throwing mud" and that their activities have been suspended in order "to reduce tension" and "allow the parties to reach an agreement on debt repayment." ORT spokesman Grigori Simanovich told Interfax on 19 November that "an absurd situation has emerged when government institutions sue a television company that is more than 50 percent owned by the government." Earlier, Simanovich suggested that the situation was not only absurd but politically motivated by media opponents on the political Left (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 November 1998). JAC ...AS KORZHAKOV IMPLICATED IN SCANDAL OVER SHARES. The State Duma plans to investigate allegations that the percentage of government ownership in ORT exceeds 51 percent. Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev said that the lower house will conduct a two-week investigation into claims by Duma Committee Chairman Viktor Ilyukhin (Communist) that 26 percent of shares in ORT were signed over to President Boris Yeltsin in 1994 as a bribe, Interfax reported on 20 November. Speaking on ORT's "Vremya" program, financial magnate Boris Berezovskii confirmed that transfer but said it took place at the behest of Yeltsin's former bodyguard Aleksandr Korzhakov, who is now a Duma deputy. Oleg Sysuev, deputy chief of the presidential staff, agreed that the entire transaction was "Korzhakov's idea" and that the president does not know about his "vast wealth." JAC DEBT NEGOTIATORS ACHIEVE BREAKTHROUGH. Russian government officials and a delegation of international banks led by Deutsche Bank issued a joint statement on 19 November saying they have reached a preliminary agreement on restructuring the government's short-term Treasury bill debt, Bloomberg reported. The statement includes a pledge by Russia to provide some dollars in cash in exchange for the debt. One more round of talks will be needed to work out the final terms, ITAR-TASS reported on 20 November. JAC PRIMAKOV SLAMS REFORMERS... In his first in-depth interview, Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov lambasted "economic reformers" and criticized the West for continuing to rely on them for information. He told "Izvestiya" on 20 November, that the West, specifically the U.S., criticized his cabinet's economic plan based on disinformation spread by former members of more liberal governments. He noted that "there is great support for [those former cabinet ministers] in some Western political circles and media," but "these are the gentlemen who duped the West" and paid no attention to "the social aspects of the economy." Primakov disputed the notion that a middle class has formed in Russia: "People waving their arms around on the stock exchange floor are not the middle class. Without the fundamental development of the economy, a genuine middle class-- instead of just moneychangers--cannot emerge." He characterized the 17 August moratorium on foreign debt payments as more of a panicked reaction than an appropriate policy. JAC ...NIXES ANY PLANS TO RUN FOR PRESIDENT. Primakov also suggested that the Western policy-makers are failing to grasp Russian reality because they are "bound by stereotypes, notably in relation to Maslyukov," who is a "professional of the highest order." Echoing earlier statements, he recalled that the U.S. came out the Great Depression by increasing the role of the state and that state regulation is needed to protect the population against "gangsterism" and "corruption." Primakov dismissed the idea that he will run for the Presidency, noting that "lunacy has its limits and I reached mine by agreeing to be prime minister." He added that "age is not on my side." The same day, Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev told ITAR-TASS that the number of the Primakov government's enemies is growing and that the government may be ousted. JAC GOVERNMENT, YABLOKO BLAST BACK AT KALMYKIA... Sysuev, deputy chief of the presidential administration, suggested on 19 November that Kalmykia's threat to secede was in fact "a smoke screen for recent financial and economic dealings by the republic's leaders." He noted that the Security Council will discuss a new bill to address the problem of elected regional leaders who overstep their powers. The Duma Council instructed two of its committees to draft its own legislation on the issue. Meanwhile, the Yabloko party urged President Yeltsin to declare a state of emergency in the republic, noting that the local government has violated Russian law in a number of ways. A letter signed by Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii alleges that an offshore zone set up by the local government is a financial "black hole" in which funds from Moscow disappear. JAC ...WHILE PRESS, REGIONS BLAME MOSCOW. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 19 November criticized the federal government for giving favored regional leaders money while withholding funds from those out of favor, noting that it is a "dangerous game" that Moscow cannot win. It added that "the federal center is weak and the president of Kalmykia will always be able to play at separatism, thus strengthening his own position within the republic." The same day Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev predicted that the Finance Ministry's inadequate attention to the regions could trigger unilateral cancellation of agreements on the division of powers between the regions and the federal government. JAC MASLYUKOV WARNS RUSSIA WILL BECOME OIL IMPORTER. Predicting that oil production could slump to 220 million tons by 2000, First Deputy Prime Minister Maslyukov said Russia may halt oil exports and become an oil importer, Interfax reported on 20 November. Meanwhile, Occidental Petroleum became the latest Western oil company to abandon a Russian project, ITAR- TASS reported on 18 November. Amoco and Elf Aquitaine earlier announced plans to exit from some projects. Analysts suggest that Russia cannot compete with other energy-producing countries, which offer lower production costs, a more modern infrastructure, and investor- friendly economic policies. JAC RELIEF EFFORT FROZEN. Ice in the Arctic Ocean stopped a Russian oil tanker equipped with an atomic-powered ice breaker from continuing on its journey to Chukotka Autonomous Okrug, ITAR-TASS reported on 19 November. The tanker was carrying 12,000 tons of fuel, which would have allowed 4,000 residents there to remain through the winter, AFP reported the previous day. Meanwhile, a relief effort in Kamchatka Oblast has gone more smoothly. Three atomic submarines are providing the town of Vilyuchinsk with electricity, "Torgovaya gazeta" reported on 12 November. JAC NUCLEAR WORKERS IN URALS STAGE ONE-DAY STRIKE. Some 3,000 workers at the closed city of Snezhinsk in Chelyabinsk Oblast protested a three-month backlog of unpaid wages by staging a one-day strike on 19 November, ITAR-TASS reported. JAC DERZHAVA ELECTS NEW LEADER. The Derzhava Social Patriotic Movement, founded by General Aleksandr Rutskoi in 1994, elected a new chairman on 19 November, Interfax reported. Delegates at the movement's sixth extraordinary congress selected Konstantin Zatulin, an adviser to Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov and director of the Institute for the Countries of the CIS. Zatulin told Interfax he is a staunch Luzhkov supporter, like many of Derzhava's members. JAC ROSNEFT BECOMING WHOLE AGAIN? A Moscow court on 19 November ruled the Feniks company's purchase of shares in Purneftegaz, Rosneft's main production unit, invalid. Feniks was ordered to return its portion of shares, which it obtained at a sale price, which many analysts and government officials considered scandalously below market (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 November 1998). A legal case on the last 25 percent of shares in Purneftegaz held outside Rosneft, which was sold under the same terms in September, is still pending. JAC RUSSIA LAUNCHES FIRST PART OF INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION. A Russian Proton rocket lifted off from the Baikonur cosmodrome on 20 November to put the first part of the international space station into orbit, ITAR-TASS reported. Russian and U.S. officials called the launch "flawless" and are now waiting for the 5 December docking with the second segment of the station, which will be carried aboard the U.S. shuttle "Endeavor." Meanwhile, Yurii Semenov, the president of Russia's "Energiya" corporation, which owns the space station "Mir," said the station will remain in space until the year 2001. Previous plans called for closing down "Mir" in mid-1999. BP SANTA TAKE HEED. The legislature of the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug has passed a law on reindeer breeding, ITAR-TASS reported. Sergei Karyuchi, deputy chairman of the legislature, described the law as landmark legislation since previously "reindeers lacked legislative protection." Some peoples in the area, such as the northern Evenks, were traditionally reindeer breeders but their way of life was seriously disrupted under communism. JAC TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA NEW GEORGIAN FINANCE MINISTER NAMED. The parliament on 19 November voted by 142 to three with no abstentions to endorse President Eduard Shevardnadze's candidate for minister of finance, Caucasus Press and Reuters reported. The new minister is 37-year-old David Onoprishvili, who since 1995 has served as chairman of the parliamentary Committee for Economic Policy and Reforms. Outlining a program of austerity measures, Onoprishvili told deputies he is "not very happy" about having to take up the daunting job. He ruled out a money emission to cover the budget shortfall, saying such a move would lead to hyperinflation. A graduate of Columbia University, Onoprishvili worked as a consultant to the World Bank in 1994-1995. He replaces Mikhail Chkuaseli, who resigned a week ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 November 1998). LF GEORGIAN DISPLACED PERSONS PESSIMISTIC OVER ABKHAZ TALKS. Murman Zakaria, one of the leaders of the Coordinating Council of Political Parties of Abkhazia and Samachablo, which represents Georgians forced to flee their homes in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, has expressed doubts that the upcoming meeting between President Shevardnadze and Abkhaz leader Vladislav Ardzinba will alleviate the plight of those displaced persons, Caucasus Press reported on 19 November. Zakaria said that the Abkhaz have no interest in reaching a settlement and that Moscow is encouraging them to prolong the negotiating process indefinitely. He predicted that the agreement to be signed by Shevardnadze and Ardzinba, details of which have not been revealed, will recognize Abkhazia's independence. Georgian and Abkhaz officials have said the agreement will outline measures for the repatriation of Georgian displaced persons to Abkhazia. Meanwhile, another two Abkhaz policemen were killed on 19 November when their car hit a land mine in Gali Raion, Caucasus Press reported. LF GEORGIAN KURDS ON HUNGER STRIKE... Up to 50 Georgian Kurds have begun a hunger strike at the Kurdish cultural center in Tbilisi, Interfax and Caucasus Press reported on 19 November. The center's chairman, Ordukhan Kashaki, told Caucasus Press that the strikers are protesting the 12 November arrest in Rome of Kurdistan Workers' Party leader Abdullah Ocalan and the tendency of the international media to characterize the entire Kurdish nation as separatists and terrorists. LF ...AS AZERBAIJANI NATIONALISTS CALL FOR OCALAN'S EXTRADITION TO TURKEY. The Party of Young Turkic Nationalists requested permission on 19 November from Baku Mayor Rafael Allakhverdiev to picket the Italian Embassy on 24 November, Turan reported. The party intends to protest the Italian authorities' reluctance to extradite Ocalan to Turkey. LF KARABAKH PRESIDENT DENIES DISAGREEMENT OVER PEACE PROPOSAL... Addressing the government of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic on 19 November, Arkadii Ghukasian denied rumors that some members of the enclave's leadership are unhappy with the new peace proposals advanced by the OSCE Minsk Group earlier this month, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Ghukasian said the peace plan contains encouraging new provisions, including elements of an "unconventional status" for Karabakh. Murad Petrosian, the hard-line chairman of the Karabakh parliamentary Defense and Security Committee, has reportedly criticized the proposals. Petrosian has repeatedly expressed skepticism that the OSCE is capable of mediating a political settlement to the conflict. LF ...WHILE AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION WANTS DETAILS. The opposition Movement for Democratic Elections and Electoral Reform (SIDSUH) issued a statement on 19 November expressing "concern" that the Azerbaijani authorities have not yet made public the details of the latest OSCE peace plan, Turan reported. The statement claims that the proposal reportedly contained in that plan--namely, that the Azerbaijan Republic and the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic form "a common state"-- threatens the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. To accept such a proposal is "betrayal of the [Azerbaijani] people and the state," the statement concludes. LF AZERBAIJANI PAPER FINED IN SECOND LIBEL SUIT. A Baku district court imposed a 20 million manat ($5,000) fine on the independent newspaper "Yeni Musavat" on 19 November for having implicated a senior Azerbaijani Interior Ministry official in the February 1997 murder of Academician Zia Buniatov, Turan reported. Vidadi Mahmudov, defense lawyer for "Yeni Musavat," complained that the verdict was unfair as the newspaper had printed a statement by the official in question denying any part in the killing. Rauf Arifoglu, the editor of "Yeni Musavat," embarked on a hunger strike a week ago to protest an earlier fine for insulting a member of the presidential apparatus. A second independent newspaper, "Azadlyg," is facing a libel suit brought by President Heidar Aliev's brother Djalal, whom it claimed has bought expensive property in Britain. Arifoglu and "Azadlyg" editor Gunduz Tairli met on 19 November with Western diplomats in Baku who expressed their regret at the court cases. LF BEREZOVSKII VISITS YEREVAN, BAKU. CIS Executive Secretary Boris Berezovskii outlined his proposals for reforming and giving a new lease of life to the commonwealth during talks in Yerevan on 19 November with Armenian President Robert Kocharian, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Kocharian expressed his approval of those proposals, which include acting on the 1994 proposals to create free trade zones within the CIS, terming them "quite a workable and serious package." Berezovskii, for his part, gave a positive assessment of the latest OSCE peace proposals for Karabakh, saying they are "a step forward," according to Interfax. On arrival in Baku later the same day, Berezovskii met with President Aliev, who made it clear that his country will intensify its cooperation within various CIS bodies only when measures have been implemented to enable the CIS to function more effectively, according to Interfax. LF TAJIK OPPOSITION PARTY DENOUNCES LEADER. The National Unity Party sent a letter to President Imomali Rakhmonov and the parliament on 19 November condemning the rebellion in northern Tajikistan earlier this month and demanding those who took part in it be severely punished, ITAR-TASS reported. The letter also criticized party leader Abdumalik Abdullojonov for his role in the rebellion, saying he has not been in contact with the party for three years and was acting on his own. It also called on residents of northern Tajikistan to hand over voluntarily any weapons they may have been given by "mutineers" during the rebellion. The letter came one day after Russia's "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported that the Tajik Justice Ministry has asked the Supreme Court to ban the activities of the National Unity Party. BP NAZARBAYEV SEES 'NOTHING BUT VICTORY' IN UPCOMING ELECTIONS. Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev said he is counting on "nothing but victory" in the January presidential elections, Interfax reported on 19 November. Nazarbayev spoke of the success his country has enjoyed since it became an independent state in 1991. He said that during that period, inflation has dropped from 2,900 percent to 2.3 percent and that 75 percent of industrial companies and 90 percent of farms have been privatized, And he added that there are 7,700 new farms and 122,000 new businesses employing some 1.2 million people. Nazarbayev promised the presidential elections will be free and fair. BP END NOTE SCHROEDER'S VISIT MARKS NEW ERA IN RUSSO-GERMAN RELATIONS by Roland Eggleston This week's visit to Moscow by new German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has made clear that any personal friendship between the leaders of the two nations will no longer play so large a role in German- Russian relations. Officials in Bonn say the days of the so-called "Maennerfreundschaft"--or male-bonding--between Russian President Boris Yeltsin and former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl are now history. One of those officials says that "Kohl based his policy too much on the person of Boris Yeltsin," adding that "at the time, he may have been quite right: Yeltsin was the strong man who could, and did, exercise control. But those days have past." Political commentator Lutz Steiner says "Schroeder has made clear that the new Germany is ready to support and help Russia through its current crisis. But it will be done on a firm economic basis." Steiner adds that "there will be none of the so-called 'agreements between old friends,' under which Helmut Kohl sometimes offered Russia thousands of millions [of marks] in credit." Yeltsin was quoted by most German newspapers as having declared in Moscow that "relations between Germany and Russia are, and will remain, what they were in recent years." But in Bonn, officials said that Germany's left coalition of Social Democrats and Greens wants to fashion a new relationship independent of any personal friendship between the national leaders. The officials said that Schroeder is acutely aware that Russian politics is in a state of flux. On the one hand, there is Yeltsin's visible frailty and the fact that his term in office will soon expire. In the best of circumstances, Yeltsin will remain in power only until the year 2000. Who his successor will be remains unclear. Schroeder is said also to have taken into account that Russian parliamentary elections are scheduled for next year. They could bring new leaders to the fore even before the expiration of Yeltsin's term. Schroeder's recognition of these realities was expressed not only in his meetings with Yeltsin and Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov. He also expressed his views when he met with former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, Krasnoyarsk Governor, likely presidential candidate Aleksandr Lebed, as well as communist and other political leaders. By contrast, Kohl's visits to Moscow were usually focused only on Yeltsin and those around him. One theme that pervaded all Schroeder's discussions in Moscow was that financial assistance to Russia should be provided internationally and not by Germany independently. Schroeder emphasized several times that, in his phrase, "Germany's resources are exhausted." Most German commentators agree. With more than 10 percent of the nation's workers unemployed and severe problems in some areas of the economy, there is widespread agreement that the new government is being forced to look inward more than in the past. Schroeder also pointed out to his Russian interlocutors that other Western countries are also placing restrictions on their future financial assistance to Russia. A Bonn official said: "Schroeder made clear to all his discussion partners that Russia must lay out firm foundations for economic recovery before it can expect new help from the Western industrial states." Schroeder's view, as he told Primakov, is that "the work must be done" in Moscow. But he publicly described the new Russian economic program as a "good beginning" that ought to receive a friendly reception from the IMF and World Bank. German commentators say that Schroeder paid attention to the complaints he heard from German businessmen at a private meeting. The businessmen expressed frustration with Russian tax policies, problems in implementing contracts, and other difficulties. Schroeder told them that his government is ready to intervene with Russian authorities in individual cases instead of only making a blanket approach on behalf of all German businessmen. Still, Schroeder was said also to have discussed with the businessmen Lebed's suggestion that Germany develop more business and political contacts with the Russian regions. Schroeder has said publicly that he will also recommend to the 17 provincial governments in Germany that they develop contacts with Russia's regions. German commentators are uncertain about what remains of the bilateral relations forged by Kohl and Yeltsin. One question has to do with the so-called "European triangle," the name given to the meeting in March between Yeltsin, Kohl, and French President Jacques Chirac. Under the skeptical eyes of Washington and London, the three leaders agreed to develop triangular cooperation in a number of areas, including a tri-national university, increased exchange of scientists, and more joint cultural projects. None of these programs have been realized, and perhaps now they never will. The author is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Munich. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Copyright (c) 1998 RFE/RL, Inc. All rights reserved. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx HOW TO SUBSCRIBE Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the word subscribe as the subject of the message. 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